Long Island has no shortage of brewmasters who turned a passion project into a successful business beloved by their community. But Anthony and Melissa Caggiano may be the island’s only couple who opened a brewery to save their land.
“We wanted to keep the farm and doing agriculture is not necessarily enough, it doesn’t net you enough money to pay off land like this where we are,” Anthony explained. “It’s very expensive to live on the East End of Long Island.”
After Anthony took over his 43-acre Jamesport wholesale nursery in 2007 he also formed Plant Connections, which specializes in living architecture that has been planted around the country. By growing the plants for green walls and green roofs, he kept his nursery business in the black.
But just a few years later, Anthony and his employee-turned-business-and-life-partner, Melissa, needed to once again adjust their business model to keep the farm sustainable. In 2014, they planted hops with plans to sell the ingredient to local brewers through their newly formed Long Island Hops company, with no intention to get any deeper into the beer making process. But then their friend Greg Martin, a brewer and one of the founders of Long Ireland Beer Company, taught Anthony a thing or two about crafting brews, teeing him up for his current success.
Anthony Caggiano and his wife, Melissa, were married on their farm in 2019. (Photo by David Benthal)
After planting wheat and barley as well, the couple opened Jamesport Farm Brewery in August 2017, which has since become one of the North Fork’s most popular watering holes. With upwards of 15 hand crafted beers and ciders on tap, live music and a beer garden, they have grown more successful year after year and with a recent shout-out in Forbes magazine’s “Best Places to Travel in 2023,” it seems the brewery’s popularity will only continue.
Despite their designation as a go-to hangout, Anthony and Melissa take the most pride in their agricultural labors. Instead of sports games or classic films, the TVs above the bar in their brewery show footage of their work in the fields, including a nationally televised John Deere commercial that began airing last year in which the couple takes turns riding a John Deere mower, tend to their crops and discuss entertaining at the brewery and at home. Their brewery also has the distinction of being Long Island’s first “farm-to-pint” brewery. Most of the beers’ ingredients — from the hops in every brew to the blackberries and pumpkins that flavor just a few — are grown right in the brewery’s backyard.
THE BACK 40
Regardless of whatever cover crops or fertilizers Anthony, a self-described “science guy,” may use on his land, he says that much of the flavor of his brews can be attributed to the history and location of the soil. Located about a mile inland of the Long Island Sound, he believes his soil has a salty quality, and its historical use as a potato farm showcases a sandy element that he thinks has made all the difference in his beers’ ingredients.
“The soil that is great for potatoes is also great for hops and barley,” he explained. “The topsoil has a little sandy element to it and then under the topsoil is all sand. So in a rain event or an irrigation event, it waters the area nicely and then it’s going to dry out.”
This soil has birthed eight different hops Anthony uses not only for his beers but for the property’s aesthetic appeal as well. While other farmers might save time by chopping down the full vines and letting a machine cut and sort the hops, Anthony and his crew hand-pick the flowers and leave the vines intact for their natural decorative appeal. Just outside the brewery, he planted several rows of hops that when fully grown during the summer, wall off VIP hop rooms to sequester small parties. In his main hop field near the back of the property, he left space in the middle of two rows for guests to pose for photos surrounded by towering vines.
Jamesport Farm Brewery owner Anthony Caggiano says much of the flavor of his brews can be attributed to the history and location of the soil. (Photos by David Benthal)
Farther south on the property lies a 10-acre barley field, where Anthony grows the ingredient he thinks is most impacted by his soil’s salty and sandy Long Island quality. It is often standard practice for brewmasters to send large quantities of their barley to a malt house, which will then ship a mass of any barley they have in return. But Anthony feels what’s grown in his soil is so unique, he refused to partner with a malt shop until he found one who agreed to return his own stock.
“That’s where we think that we get the flavors in our beers that maybe somebody else might not get,” he said. “It was grown here on Long Island, it was grown on this soil, soil that has been here for thousands of years getting hit with salt air.”
While the farmer-turned-brewer has experimented with various barley crops over the years, he has stuck with a spring barley called Newdale.
“It grows well, the strain is good with fusarium head blight, a fungal toxin that can decimate a barley crop, and other leaf blights, it’s a little more resistant,” he said. “I went through ones that weren’t as good a producer, and weren’t as plump of a kernel.”
For the best results, he developed a regime of seeding his field heavier than recommended and spraying a single fungicide spray once his flowers enter the boot stage, when they have grown to about an inch. He also uses mustard as a cover crop throughout his property outside of growing season.
“Mustard is a biofumigant,” he explained. “Once that mustard grows and it’s flowering, you till it right into the ground, and when it decomposes, it lets off a chemical that’s like a biofumigant which helps with insects.”
When Anthony receives his barley malted from a facility upstate, it’s time to head inside and start the brewing process, which he deems an art compared to the science of agriculture. While good crops are those a farmer can keep unsullied by pests, good beer is a rather subjective matter. Since Anthony is far from a beer fanatic, it is Melissa, the beer aficionado of the duo, who requests what colors the artist has on his pallet to craft everything from stouts to sours.
“I always drank craft beer,” she explained. “I decided what styles we would have and helped with the flavoring and flavor profiles.”
The brewery has the distinction of being Long Island’s first “farm-to-pint” brewery, with most of the beer’s ingredients grown right in the brewery’s backyard. (Photos by David Benthal)
The hops, the couple explained, provide one of two qualities to their beer: bitterness or aroma.
“By aroma I mean sometimes the beer has a citrusy taste so that would be an aroma hops,” Melissa said. “A lot of IPAs have bittering hops in them because that’s what an IPA drinker is going for is that bitter flavor.”
Of course, it’s not just about selecting the right hops. Anthony said hop flowers like centennial, fuggle and magnum could bitter a brew or provide an aroma, depending on when they are used.
“It’s all about the timing when you put the hops into the boil,” Anthony said. “If we want it really hoppy we do it right at the end. If we want just a little hoppy flavor then we will put it in early.”
While they’ve developed various brews over the years, the agricultural processes have not changed drastically since they began crafting beer. The couple’s most significant challenge was the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit a few months after Anthony and Melissa were married on their farm in 2019. The then-newlyweds expanded their brewery to include a second bar with a window to allow for outdoor service, which thrived during pandemic summers.
Their impact during the pandemic stretched far beyond the North Fork, and had little to do with enjoying a cold one. During this time, Anthony was president of the New York State Nursery and Landscape Association, a trade organization which educates and advocates for green industry professionals, from landscape and lawn care workers, to nursery and garden center owners, equipment dealers and suppliers. Monitoring the latest information, the couple regularly communicated safety guidelines and best practices to their members, from masking requirements to social distancing protocols.
Anthony then convinced Melissa, who had been head of the body’s government affairs committee for 12 years, to run for the position of president, which she has held since January.
“I work a lot with advocacy so we go to Albany every year, we work with the commissioner of agriculture, the Department of Agriculture and Markets … agriculture committee chairs because they kind of know what farmers are dealing with,” Melissa explained of her work. “We find out stuff from them and we tell them about our real-life experiences that they might not know about. They don’t always know how the laws they are making will impact farmers.”
Anthony said it was his mother, who ran three flower shops on Long Island, who taught him the value of getting involved in an industry you truly care about. He said she became a president on boards for flower delivery services Teleflora and FTD Flowers, through which she networked with peers and industry figures who could discuss the ins and outs and ups and downs of their businesses. He understood the value and pride his mother drew from this work, and decided to honor her through his similar industry involvement.
Jamesport Farm Brewery is a go-to location for live music on the North Fork. (Photos by David Benthal)
“So we know everything that happens before everybody else because we’re the decision makers,” Anthony said. “If a problem comes up we say what do we want to do about this problem, what’s good for our industry. Then we talk about it and we go and lobby for that.”
Looking towards the summer season, Anthony, a southern and classic rock fan who enjoys playing guitar during his downtime, and Melissa, who is known to grab the microphone on occasion, will have plenty of opportunities to show off their skills alongside the acts that will hit the brewery’s stage.
“We have all the weekends covered with live bands,” he said. “We do everything we can to make people comfortable and make sure it’s a cool vibe, no pressure, just come in, relax, hang out and take in the scenery.”